A premonition

James Clement remembers the exact moment he first considered the possibility of playing footy at AFL level.

"This is going to sound absolutely ridiculous," he said on this week's episode of the Return to the Nest podcast.

"The West Coast Eagles were playing in the '92 Grand Final and I watched the game pretty carefully.

"I was looking at the way they played, the level of skill and the running patterns.

"After the game I said to my old man, 'if you inserted me into this game, I reckon I could play in it.'

"It was a throwaway comment but I remember it vividly and he thought I was absolutely out of my mind."

It might have been a ridiculous statement from a then 16-year-old who had played a couple of standout seasons for Perth's Scotch College, except that he would later go on to play 230 AFL games for Fremantle and Collingwood, collecting two All Australian blazers and two Copeland trophies.

Not an outrageous hypothetical in hindsight.

The utility

When he finished school he played at South Fremantle in the WAFL, mostly as a half back and winger, before joining the Dockers and spending most of his time in defence.

"Fremantle was a very young side in the competition and we were being led by Gerard Neesham," Clement said.

"He played me well before I deserved it, he just said 'we're going to blood you.'

"I played more games than I probably should have at Freo because he saw something in me and continued to play me.

"A couple of times I went forward and kicked a bag, so I was seen as a utility... but at that age I don't think I had the temperament to be moved around and what it translated to was inconsistency."

He played all 22 games for Fremantle in 1999 but the following season he managed only eight matches.

"A new coach coming in probably culminated in a lack of trust in my abilities and I could see that my future wasn't at Fremantle."

Mick Malthouse, who had tried to recruit Clement to West Coast years prior, jumped at the opportunity to bring him across to Collingwood.

"To be fair to Fremantle, they didn't necessarily want to trade me... ultimately I think I needed a change.

"I had an agent who went to work and they lasted five minutes in the market before Collingwood was knocking at my door and I was chatting to Mick.

"Brodie Holland was part of that deal as well and it was a winning trade for everyone I think."

James Clement celebrates winning the 2007 ANZAC Day match.

I'm going to win one of these

On his arrival in Melbourne he soon realised the significance of playing for a club steeped in history.

"In the bowels of Vic Park there was a room full of memorabilia, wall-to-wall trophies and photos and it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen," he said.

"It's hard to explain but I had this feeling wash over me and I realised what I was now part of.

"I have a history of making ridiculous comments... I held one of the Copeland trophies and - the balls of me - I actually said, 'I'm going to win one of these.'

"We had the best coach in the country and some superstars of the game at the club.

"We had the makings of this incredible side and Mick had recruited on the basis of great character and sold it to us as playing a game plan with great culture and connection."

Clement missed only six games in his first six seasons at the club - his durability and consistency made him a standout in a side that would contest the 2002 and 2003 Grand Finals.

"Effectively we were a group of misfits from other clubs who had come together to try and make good," he said.

"I get very nostalgic and quite emotional when I think about it - they were some of the best times in my life.

"The coaches final address is usually touching on strategic points, a little bit of a rev up and then you're out.

"I remember the team sitting in that meeting room before we ran out for the 2002 Grand Final... Mick was emotional and he told us no matter what happened that day, he had never been prouder to be part of a group of men.

"It gets me every time I think about it.

"It was the best pre-game speech I've ever heard in my life, we were going to be bloody bulletproof."

Clement won back-to-back Copeland trophies in 2004 and 2005 and was named in the All Australian side in the same years.

Listen to the full episode of Return to the Nest below or on Spotify.